Tanking is trendy which has led to some really awful records around baseball. Four teams are on pace to lose 100 or more games, which would make it just the second season in the history of baseball (2002 was the other season) for that many teams to eclipse the century mark in losses.
No one likes to lose, but losing seems to be a necessary evil as part of a rebuild. The terrible teams throughout baseball may have all began their rebuilds at different times, but they all find themselves in the pit of despair this year. Who is in the best situation? How do the Royals compare?
First, let’s look at a snapshot of our plucky Royals.
Kansas City Royals
2019 record: 56-97 (.366)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .407
Young players to build around (age in parenthesis): Hunter Dozier (27), Brad Keller (23), Adalberto Mondesi (23)
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Jakob Junis (26), Nicky Lopez (24), Ryan O’Hearn (25), Brett Phillips (25), Bubba Starling (26)
Tradeable assets: Danny Duffy (30), Ian Kennedy (34), Whit Merrifield (30), Jorge Soler (27)
Farm system: Ranked #18 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include SS Bobby Witt, Jr. (#23), RHP Jackson Kowar (#60), LHP Daniel Lynch (#68), RHP Brady Singer (#88). Fangraphs ranks 8 prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: The Royals have a new owner in John Sherman and are likely to get a new local TV deal that will more than double the amount they were getting from Fox Sports Kansas City. They have just under $60 million committed to contracts in 2020, according to Baseball Reference. Jorge Soler is likely to opt into arbirtration and Mike Montgomery could get a raise to bring that to $70 million. The Royals have $36 million committed in 2021, plus arbitration salaries for Soler, Montgomery, Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi.
The Royals dug themselves into a deep hole following their post-championship hangover, but have begun to climb back towards the light this year. The team has some tentpoles to build around such as surprising star Hunter Dozier and uber-talented Adalberto Mondesi, and Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield could both be part of the future as well. The pitching has a long way to go, but a number of young arms had very successful year in the minors, giving a lot more hope to what was a decimated farm system. The club seems to be on the right path, but management will have to remain patient and see the rebuild through with an eye on the long-term. New ownership adds another wrinkle as fans wait to see what direction Sherman wants to take the franchise.
What about other teams? How do they compare with what the Royals are doing?
2019 record: 45-106 (.298)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .364
Young players to build around: None.
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Jeimer Candelario (25), Harold Castro (25), Travis Demerette (24), Brandon Dixon (27), Niko Goodrum (27), Joe Jimenez (24), Jacoby Jones (27), Daniel Norris (26), Victor Reyes (24), Jake Rogers (26), Christin Stewart (25), Spencer Turnbull (26)
Tradeable assets: Matt Boyd (28), Michael Fulmer (26)
Farm system: Ranked #13 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include RHP Casey MIze (#7), RHP Matt Manning (#23), OF Riley Greene (#54), LHP Tarik Skubal (#99). Fangraphs ranks 10 prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: The Tigers have one more year left with Jordan Zimmermann, with the disappointing starter owed $25 million next year. But aging slugger Miguel Cabrera is owed in excess of $30 million each year until 2023 and the club will still be paying Prince Fielder $6 million next year. No one else on the club is under contract for next year, and the only costly arbitration cases next year will be for Boyd, Fulmer, and Norris. With former owner Mike Ilitch having passed away, it remains to be seen whether his son Christopher will spend as lavishly on the club.
The Tigers have been on a mission to tank, losing nearly 75 percent of their games since the end of May. They have the benefit of having some good young pitching depth with Boyd, Turnbull, and the return of Fulmer in 2020 following Tommy John surgery, as well as a pitching-heavy farm system, which could make them attractive sellers in the trade market. The organization has very few hitters to count on for the future, however, with maybe catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Christin Stewart the only current big leaguers who have a chance to be around in a few years. General Manager Al Avila has been criticized for not being up to steering the Tigers through a rebuild, and mismanaging the trade market. How he handles his pitching assets and spins them useful players will determine whether the Tigers return to their former glory.
2019 record: 49-103 (.322)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .359
Young players to build around: None
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Hanser Alberto (26), John Means (26), Renato Nunez (25), Rio Ruiz (25), Anthony Santander (24)
Tradeable assets: Dylan Bundy (26), Mychal Givens (29), Trey Mancini (27), Jonathan Villar (28)
Farm system: Ranked #9 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include C Adley Rustchman (#5), LHP DL Hall (#36), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (#47), OF Yusniel Diaz (#78), 1B Ryan Mountcastle (#92). Fangraphs ranks 11 prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: There have been rumors the Angelos family could sell the team and possibly even move the team to Nashville, fueled by the age and health of 90-year old owner Peter Angelos. However those rumors have been denied and Peter’s sons John and Louis have taken over operation of the club. The Orioles will have to pay $20 million a year to the Nationals as part of a dispute over territorial broadcast rights. The only players signed beyond this year are Chris Davis and Alex Cobb. The club has $37 million committed to players next year plus arbitration cases for Villar, Bundy, Givens, Alberto, and Mancini, with a similar situation for 2021.
The Orioles lost 115 games last year, and they have already ensured their second consecutive 100-loss season, the first time that has happened in club history since 1953-54. Bottoming out that hard has its benefits though, and the Orioles grabbed one of the best college catchers in decades, Adley Rutschman, with the #1 pick this year. The farm system seems to be on its way to being one of the best in baseball, so while the MLB squad seems almost completely bereft of talent save for maybe pitcher John Means, there is help on the way. General Manager Mike Elias is used to big rebuilds coming over from the Astros, and he has largely followed that blueprint in Baltimore. The Orioles could very well be on their way, but it will still be some time before they are close to respectable.
The Baltimore Orioles, 2019: pic.twitter.com/ardpuZbmKR— Connor Newcomb (@ConnorNewcomb_) August 11, 2019
2019 record: 53-99 (.349)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .406
Young players to build around: Sandy Alcantara (23), Brian Anderson (26), Caleb Smith (27)
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Jorge Alfaro (26), Lewis Brinson (25), Garrett Cooper (28), Pablo Lopez (23), Harold Ramirez (24), Ryne Stanek (27), Jose Urena (27), Jordan Yamamoto (23)
Tradeable assets: Miguel Rojas (30)
Farm system: Ranked #8 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include RHP Sixto Sanchez (#20), OF Jesus Sanchez (#43), OF J.J. Bleday (#55), 2B Isan Diaz (#77), RHP Edward Cabrera (#79). Fangraphs ranks 14 prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: Only Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Rojas are signed for next year, with only a few players even eligible for arbitration. It seems unlikely the Marlins would pick up the $16 million option on Starlin Castro for next year. The new ownership group took on about $400 million in debt with the team, and with attendance at under 10,000 fans per game, money could still be tight even with payroll flexibility.
The Derek Jeter-led ownership group appeared to be cheap, sending every decent player out of town, but they did get some return on those players and have begun to build a solid farm system with some depth. They have some intriguing young starting pitchers that could be part of the future, or spun for even more prospects as they did sending Trevor Richards to the Rays in July for top 100 prospect Jesus Sanchez. The Marlins seem to favor toolsy talent, giving them a high-risk, high-reward approach that could either blow up in their face or bring them back to another surprise post-season run.
Toronto Blue Jays
2019 record: 61-91 (.402)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .441
Young players to build around: Bo Bichette (21), Cavan Biggio (24), Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (20), Loudes Gurriel, Jr. (25)
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Anthony Alford (24), Brandon Drury (26), Derek Fisher (25), Tesocar Hernandez (26), Danny Jansen (24), Billy McKinney (24), Rowdy Tellez (24), Trent Thornton (25).
Tradeable assets: Ken Giles (28), Randal Grichuk (27).
Farm system: Ranked #6 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include RHP Nate Pearson (#7), SS Jordan Groshans (#38), RHP Eric Pardinho (#91). Fangraphs ranks seven prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: The Jays have Grichuk in a long-term deal through 2023, owing him $13 million next year. Toronto will still have to pay $14 million to Troy Tulowitzki, but even with that they will only have $29 million committed to players next year, and less than $20 million in 2021. The team is paying some $20 million on their spring training complex and there has been talk that their home stadium, Rogers Centre, is in need of a facelift which could mean renovations or a whole new stadium that could require a financial contribution from the Jays. Rogers Communication has always been a bit frugal in spending on the Jays.
The Blue Jays have arguably the best young player in baseball in Guerrero, and they have developed a few other sons of former baseball stars to give themselves a very solid nucleus. They have flushed out most of their bad contracts and should be in a very good position to build around their young core next year. The team bottomed out this year in what was clearly a transition year full of one-year stop gaps, but the Blue Jays could be contending in a hurry.
Chicago White Sox
2019 record: 66-86 (.432)
Winning percentage from 2017-2019: .410
Young players to build around: Tim Anderson (26), Lucas Giolito (24), Eloy Jimenez (22), Yoan Moncada (24)
Young players that may or may not be part of the future: Dylan Cease (23), Carson Fulmer (25), Leury Garcia (28), Reynaldo Lopez (25), Carlos Rodon (26), Yolmer Sanchez (27).
Tradeable assets: Maybe Kelvin Herrera (29) if he turns it around next year.
Farm system: Ranked #3 by Baseball America. Top 100 prospects include OF Luis Robert (#3), 1B Andrew Vaughn (#26), RHP Michael Kopech (#29), 2B Nick Madrigal (#49). Fangraphs ranks 8 prospects 45 FV or greater.
Future financials: The White Sox have enormous flexibility with just $15 million committed to 2020, $12 million in 2021. Despite a history of owner Jerry Reinsdorf being frugal with payroll, they attempted to make a big splash last winter going after Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and could look to make another big splash this winter. The White Sox have a new TV partnership that gives Reinsdorf a 40 percent equity stake, so he may look for a splashy player or two to boost ratings.
The White Sox are a bit further along their rebuild than most of these clubs, and they are starting to see the fruits of their losing. The team isn’t contending yet, but they have seen some breakthrough performances from players like Giolito and Moncada and there are still players on the way like uber-prospect Luis Robert. The White Sox should be pretty aggressive looking for veteran players to put around their young talent and there is a chance they could be contenders are soon as next year.